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Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disease is a group of disorders that affect the nerves that lie outside the brain and spinal cord. These nerves carry signals to your muscles to control movements. CMT is caused by defects in genes. You can inherit a gene defect that causes CMT. Or, a new gene defect can occur during conception. Once a person has a gene defect that causes CMT, it can be passed down to the next generation.
CMT most often affects the lower legs, feet, and hands. The disease causes muscles to weaken and waste away. Symptoms usually start in the teen years or early adulthood. Early symptoms can be foot problems, such as high arches or flexed toes. As CMT gets worse, the lower legs may weaken, causing problems with walking. Later, the hands may also become weak, making it difficult to do things such as write.
Some people with CMT are only mildly affected, while others have a hard time walking. Many people with CMT lead active lives and have a normal life span.
CMT has no cure. But treatment can help people cope with its disabling symptoms. Physical therapy may delay or reduce muscle loss. Ankle braces can help you walk. Thumb splints, which support and limit the motion of your thumb joints, can help with hand weakness. Medicine can relieve pain.
Content last updated: September 22, 2009.